I’ve noticed quite a bit of interest lately in the subject of Protestants who are leaving for Catholicism (or Orthodoxy). Much of it was sparked by the events surrounding a pastor named Jason Stellman. The reaction was so visceral that Jason had to stop blogging for a while to get away for a bit. I had not heard of Jason until one of my customers asked me about him. What I discovered was a Protestant pastor who had begun having doubts about sola scriptura and sola fide. The doubts led him to abandon his belief in them and caused him to eventually resign his position. After one person had commented that he should have talked to someone about these doubts Jason revealed that he had spent “many hours with men like Michael Horton, Ligon Duncan, and James White” (all formidable reformed scholars and White wrote an entire book on both issues. See here and here.) It is regrettable that the reaction to this man’s journey became so ugly. Much more helpful is a recent post by Michael Horton where he offers 15 theses which “people should wrestle with before embracing a Roman Catholic perspective on authority.” Horton has received some push back and several good questions but the tone has, so far, been civil. Justin Taylor has nicely summarized his points.
- The view summarized above is what we find in the church fathers.
- Roman Catholic scholars acknowledge that the early Christian community in Rome was not unified under a single head.
- Ancient Christian leaders of the East gave special honor to the bishop of Rome, but considered any claim of one bishop’s supremacy to be an act of schism.
- Nevertheless, building on the claims of Roman bishops Leo I and Galsius in the 5th century, later bishops of Rome did claim precisely this “proud address.”
- Papal pretensions contributed to the Great Schism in 1054, when the churches of the East formally excommunicated the Church of Rome, and the pope reacted in kind.
- The Avignon Papacy (1309-76) relocated the throne to France and was followed by the Western Schism (1378-1417), with three rival popes excommunicating each other and their sees.
- Medieval debates erupted over whether Scripture, popes, or councils had the final say.
- Papal claims were only strengthened in reaction to the Reformation, all the way to the promulgation of papal infallibility at the First Vatican Council in 1870.
- Rome argues that an infallible canon needs an infallible interpreter.
- Those of us who remain Reformed must examine the Scriptures and the relevant arguments before concluding that Rome’s claims are not justified and its teaching is at variance with crucial biblical doctrines.
- Rome’s ambitious claims are tested by its faithfulness to the gospel.
How might a Catholic respond to Horton? I’m not sure but some of these points are addressed in an essay by philosopher Robert Koons entitled “A Lutheran’s Case for Roman Catholicism.” The essay is not written as a response to Horton (it was written in 2007). It is long (95 pages) but is well worth reading. I highly recommend it.